asparagus (n.)

plant cultivated for its edible shoots, late 14c., aspergy; late Old English sparage, from Latin asparagus (in Medieval Latin often sparagus), from Greek asparagos/aspharagos, which is of uncertain origin; perhaps with euphonic a- + PIE root *sp(h)er(e)g- "to spring up," but Beekes suggests "it is rather a substrate word," based in part on the p/ph variation.

In Middle English, asperages sometimes was regarded as a plural, with false singular aspergy. By 16c. the word had been Englished as far as sperach, sperage. The classical Latin form of the word is attested in English from mid-16c., but was limited at first to herbalists and botanists; the common form from 17c.-19c. was the folk-etymologized variant sparrowgrass, during which time asparagus had "an air of stiffness and pedantry" [John Walker, "Critical Pronouncing Dictionary," 1791]. Known in Old English as eorðnafela. Related: Asparaginous.

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